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Service-Oriented Process to Cannibalize Integrators

As Web services support for business processes matures, companies may be able to throw out expensive and complicated integration systems through a "Service-Oriented Process" approach, according to a new report by XML research firm ZapThink.

Service-Oriented Process is a separate abstraction layer for business process definition and execution that leverages the capabilities of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), a collection of services which communicate with each other. Service-Oriented Process provides businesses an approach to tying business requirements to the Service model represented in the SOA metamodel, thereby providing a flexible approach towards implementing architectures that promote business agility.

This approach depends upon businesses defining their business processes and then using those processes to define their IT infrastructures. The businesses can then expose those business processes as Web services which can be consumed by other services. From a process standpoint, those services can then include key personnel. For instance, a purchase order process could require approval from a purchase manager before it completes fulfillment.

"A process is a set of activities that are linked together into a logical flow that meets business requirements," Ronald Schmelzer, ZapThink co-founder and senior analyst, told internetnews.com.

Processes encompass everything from the way a business produces a product to the way it communicates with its suppliers or works with its employees. A business could have a process for the way it submits purchases or the way employees reserve airline tickets or the way it exchanges customer information with partners.

But ZapThink's Schmelzer said that the current approach to integration relies on defining business processes based on the capabilities of IT infrastructure, meaning that businesses lose flexibility.

"Every time the IT folks make a change, they have to change the overall process," Schmelzer said, adding that it requires the complex and time-consuming task of tying disparate systems together.

As Annrai O'Tool, CEO of Cape Clear Software, notes in his paper, Web Service-Oriented Architecture -- The Best Solution to Business Integration, "Business integration (that is, the task of tying many information systems together to support a business process) has historically been an extremely complex, costly, and time-consuming task. Dogged by a lack of standards in terms of programming languages, operating systems, application interfaces, and networking protocols, the traditional ways of integrating many diverse applications have necessitated small armies of systems integrators and Byzantine technology."

He continued, "I would hazard a guess that many reading this article have sat in large rooms with walls covered in paper diagrams that depict possible flows among several applications and mock-ups of screen layouts, only to discover six months and several million dollars later that even getting your CRM system to synchronize data with SAP is proving to be a nightmare!"

Drawing the same conclusion, Schmelzer said, "The success of business depends upon IT systems that are able to deliver functionality that meets business requirements in a flexible, agile way. Yet most corporate IT infrastructures are littered with a heterogeneous array of systems that perform isolated tasks reasonably well, but fail to fulfill core business requirements. Approaching business process from a Service-oriented perspective enables business requirements to drive IT capabilities in an agile, cost-effect manner."

"If you're thinking of it from the bottom-up as a bunch of systems that you're trying to integrate, you're going to need a bunch of expensive systems to make it happen," Schmelzer added. "By approaching a Service-Oriented Architecture from a business process perspective, it will buy you all of the things people are trying to solve with integration products today."

To meet the goal of allowing business processes to drive IT decisions rather than the other way around, technology companies have been working on a slew of specifications which address key supporting concepts like orchestration, choreography, composition, collaboration, coordination, workflow and transaction. Among the specifications are Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS), Business Process Modeling Language (BPML), Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), Business Transaction Protocol (BTP), Conversation Support for Web Services (CS-WS), ebXML Business Process Specification Schema (BPSS), RosettaNet Partner Interface Processes (PIPs), SOAP Conversations, Web Services Choreography Interface (WSCI), Web Services Flow Language (WSFL), WS-Coordination, WS-Transaction, WS-Reliability, WS-ReliableMessaging, WS-Addressing, Extensible Process Definition Language (XPDL), and Microsoft's XLANG. In addition, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) working group on Choreography is chugging along.

In ZapThink's new report, Service-Oriented Process: Meeting the Requirements of Business Agility with SOA-based Process, the firm found that while the standards landscape will converge on a single choreography, orchestration and process flow specification within the next 12 to 18 months, the players in the space are already unveiling products, and the market looks ready to explode from $120 million in 2003 to more than $8.3 billion by 2008.

ZapThink also predicts that by 2005, more than 70 percent of Web services implementations will be process-driven.

"The business process is going to be in charge of IT," Schmelzer said. "It's really going to apply some serious pressure on the integration vendors. Simply connecting systems together is not enough. If you've really implemented Service-Oriented Architectures correctly, you shouldn't need an integration system."

The possibilities of the space may also drive a wave of consolidation, as application server and platform vendors focused on Web services -- like IBM, Microsoft, BEA and possibly Oracle -- take an interest in firms focuses on business processes, including Fuego, Savvion, MEGA Systems, Collaxa, Intalio, Oak Grove Systems, Choreology and HandySoft.